Welcome to Producer’s Chair, a new mini-column in which Editor-in-Chief Michael Roffman offers his own career advice to artists and various figureheads in the film and music industry. Try reading this in the voice of American character actor and legend Frank Sivero while slowly sipping your coffee or tea, preferably in a clean suit. No? Okay, just read it at your leisure.
I remember the last time I could say Weezer was my favorite band without being called an idiot. A little over 10 years ago, shortly after Maladroit confused fans of Weezer (The Green Album) and impressed the guitarists previously charmed by the understated six-string wizardry within Pinkerton and their blue-glazed debut. I liked this time a lot. It was nice to know that not only were Weezer a.) sophisticated enough to be considered intriguing but also b.) a serious-but-not-so-serious band with an indelible, Muppets-involving agenda that was pretty accessible to just about anyone interested.
But something changed in 2005. Their much maligned fifth studio effort, Make Believe, drove critics towards the john, an act that continued to thrive on 2008’s half OK, half awful Weezer (The Red Album), the abysmal, Lil’ Wayne-featuring Raditude, and 2010’s lukewarm and unnecessarily titled Hurley. What’s outrageous is how each album — well, with the exception of Hurley — was predicated with a torturous tease of a single. “Pork and Beans” was a slice of alt rock heaven seemingly pulled from 1995, while “(If You’re Wondering If I Want You To) I Want You To” brought out Cuomo’s actual angsty rebel despite a soon-to-be-dated reference to Best Buy. Of course, both of these led to half-assed albums and unnecessary internal and external collaborations.
Hurley’s an intriguing album for a variety of reasons. For one, it’s almost virtually ignored, and much of that has to do with the way they promoted it. Outside of a big push for the Jackass-assisted “Memories” and the release of “Hang On” in February 2011, the rest of the album was left essentially to online blogs making Lost jokes. To date, they’ve only played three songs (!) off the album live; according to Setlist.fm, “Memories” has been played 83 times, while “Hang On” and “Unspoken” surfaced twice each. Also, if you recall, they began a full-on nostalgic run that fall with the release of their B-sides collection, Death to False Metal, and the long-awaited reissue of Pinkerton.
By 2011, Weezer fully indulged their inner nostalgia on the road with the Memories Tour, an homage to their current album’s single, right? Not exactly. For two nights in major cities, the band, sponsored by State Farm, performed their first two albums in full following a set stocked with their hits and, yeah, “Memories”. (This wasn’t that long ago, folks. But if you’re friends with any devoted Weezer fans, you might remember them posting photos of themselves in the Blue Album with Cuomo’s glasses. That was pretty popular in early 2011, at least for me.) Not surprisingly, they capped off the year with the release of Cuomo’s third Alone series, sub-titled, The Pinkerton Years, which came packaged with a collection of essays, letters, photos, etc. labeled The Pinkerton Diaries.
Then came the cruises, the random festival appearances, and everything else run-of-the-mill nostalgic acts do for business. That’s not exactly a slight — after all, I saw more old-school Weezer fans at these full-album shows than any gigs supporting Weezer (The Red Album) or Raditude — it’s just what happens when you lean on nostalgia. What comes next, however, is the real challenge: proving you’re still a working, current band. And thus, that brings us to this September’s Everything Will Be Alright in the End. On paper, things look pretty copacetic. The Cars’ Ric Ocasek is producing once again — he handled production on the blues and greens — while drummer Pat Wilson told EW: “It’s going to have the tight structure of the Blue Album with a little bit more abandon like Pinkerton.”
It gets better. During a recent visit to South Florida, bassist/”Cold Dark World” writer Scott Shriner discussed their recent work with Ocasek, stating: “He is very serious, and not pulling any punches. Like, for one song, we were considering doing a section where we actually whistle, and he said, ‘That’s the single worst idea I’ve ever heard.'” He added, “I really love that guy, and I feel like he’s a long-lost friend now, and I appreciate his sense of humor, the dryness, the snarkiness, the brutality and the honesty. It’s refreshing to me.” For fans either tired or bored with Cuomo’s on-record pseudo-angst and onstage carnival acts, that’s probably refreshing, too.
But don’t get too swept up. After all, the songs we have heard — for example, “Back to the Shack” — promise nothing more than the usual fare, and if history serves us correctly, Cuomo may be interested in selling nostalgia, but not exactly writing it. To be fair, he has every right to feel that way. What singer-songwriter wants to flex their creative muscles with 20-year-old weights? No, Cuomo’s absolutely justified in eschewing the nostalgic path, but here’s what he gets wrong:
Photo by Heather Kaplan
Cuomo has built his career around the idea that he’s the dopey nerd rocker from “In the Garage”, who loves to “play [his] stupid songs.” That’s always been his crux and generally the mindset he’s assumed in interviews, albums, music videos, etc. The problem is that what once was an honest admission has become a token zeal he keeps trying to prove ad nauseam. What’s worse, the posters of Ace Frehley and Peter Kriss have been taken down in lieu of whatever poster a college student might put up at the time of the song’s conception. In the past five years alone, he’s worked with an oddball assortment of musicians, from mainstream pop writer Dr. Luke to Jermaine Dupri and Lil Wayne to Butch Walker and Ryan Adams. Now, all of those names could arguably point to an eclectic palette, except that, instead, it’s carved out a crisscrossed sound that’s too hokey, too pandering, and too flashy to even come close to warranting appreciation. Which leads us to…
Photo by Debi Del Grande
Everybody loves a class clown … until five minute go by. (I know. I was dealt this tragic blow once, twice, maybe 20 times in elementary, middle, and high school. But then I finally learned, I guess, in college. But then, I’m also a moron.) Cuomo used to be funny without ever having to stand up and tell the joke. That’s why the ’90s alternative nation adored the implicit comedy within songs like “Buddy Holly” or “Tired of Sex” or “El Scorcho” and why they hated gimmicky, overstated wrecks like “We Are All on Drugs”, “I Can’t Stop Partying”, or “I’m Your Daddy”. I’d like to think Cuomo’s better than that. I mean, isn’t this the guy that locked himself up and spent weeks attempting to dissect and learn the perfect pop song? Maybe he’s, to use a rather “nerdy” allusion, in need of de-fragging. Hopefully Ocasek puts him in time-out. Whatever, enough with the imagery.
Photo by Mikala Taylor
In an alternate universe, Weezer followed Pavement’s route instead of Green Day’s, but here, we’re left with a band that can play 10-20 hits each night in every major city to any demographic and continue thinking that’s that. Admittedly, I tend to think of myself as more of a populist, so I can’t say I argue with their approach, but as a critic, I also think they’ve severed ties with the people that put them on the map, despite the full-album performances and reissues and journals. Unlike Green Day, however, they haven’t found themselves stuck in a rut; rather, they’ve just kept bouncing around like a sad dad trying to keep/get his kids’ attention. But really, if they focused on who they’re actually writing for, perhaps, and this is a big perhaps, they might strike gold creatively with more moments like “The Angel and the One” and less tragedies a la “Let It All Hang Out”.
4. Live Show
Photo by Debi Del Grande
For Christ’s sake, know your work, gentlemen. You’ve soaked up all you can with Weezer (The Blue Album) and Pinkerton on stage, but what about the forgotten deep cuts off Weezer (The Green Album) and Maladroit, or the countless B-sides? You could even skip the singles off the newer albums and give some of those tracks a new life? “Ruling Me”, “The Angel and the One”, “Hold Me”, and “Pig” are all optimal choices. Try and learn a thing or two from Springsteen and Pearl Jam, arguably the best rock and roll acts around. What works for them? Certainly not toilet paper and trampolines. No, it’s the unexpected nature of their shows. They appreciate the highs and the lows of their career. Because of this, they come across as a band with life and blood. Not saying we need to hear “Haunt You Every Day” or “Heart Songs”, but still…
If you’re going to put out another album, really put out another album. Forget for a hot minute that they don’t sell anymore, and yes they’re excuses to tour (especially for graying veterans), but try and remember when it was a legit reason to get excited for another Weezer release. They told another chapter, they spoke to the heart and the brain, and they had depth. Short of that, you can’t really go wrong … well, if you could always include Pitbull. Wait, you’re not including Pitbull, right?
Truth be told, I’m a little excited for this next album. I’d like to think that Cuomo’s been bruised these last few years, tired of the malarkey, and ready to plug into something worth plugging into. But then, I’m also sitting here mildly thinking that LeBron James isn’t going to head back to Cleveland and that my new favorite show Halt and Catch Fire won’t be canceled in a few weeks. Hey, I turn 30 years old next month; there’s little room for optimism at this point, so when it bubbles up, you just gotta grasp it and then wait for the pop.
I’m an idiot, right?